The Los Angeles Lakers have to be in the lead to re-sign Dwight Howard this offseason, but it seems as if the Atlanta Hawks and Dallas Mavericks could be in the mix, if an anonymous Western Conference GM is to be believed, according to ESPN.com.
While he has talked about staying with the Lakers past this season, we all know what it means when Howard gets talking about where he's going to be playing. We've been through this before, and him leaving LA wouldn't be the most surprising thing we've seen from him over the course of the past year.
Financially, it seems impossible that Howard would leave the Lakers. He's going to sign a maximum contract wherever he goes, and the difference between re-signing with the Lakers and signing on an open market is huge.
In Los Angeles, Howard could sign a five-year deal with a 7.5 percent raise each season, starting at just more than $20.5 million next season, totaling just less than $120 million.
Signing as a free agent elsewhere would mean a maximum of four years with 4.5 percent annual raises. That would net him just less than $90 million, roughly $30 million less than what he would get by staying in Los Angeles.
When the Lakers traded for Howard, it wasn't looked at as much of a gamble, as he seemed to be in the best place possible for his situation.
His original desired destination, the Brooklyn Nets, had murdered their cap space by trading for Joe Johnson, and the alternative options seemed to pale in comparison to the Lakers, who suddenly were one of the league's best teams.
The Lakers were on pace (with the superstar lineup they had put together) to fight for a championship over the course of the next three seasons, and Howard should have been content.
That may no longer be the case.
Los Angeles is struggling to stay around .500, as the Lakers look bound for a playoff berth that amounts to a sixth, seventh, or eighth seed, and Howard is starting to show signs of frustration.
Look at the difference between our team and theirs. They just play together. They share the ball. Everybody's excited when something happens. We have to be like that to be a great team.
And, of course, there's the interview in the beginning of December when he hinted to Yahoo Sports that he might not have any qualms about leaving Los Angeles.
So I want to do it the best that I can and I’m going to take everything in I can to get what I can out of the NBA. Which, for me, is winning a championship. So if I have to play on another team or do whatever I have to do to get one, that’s my goal. This is my passion, so I’ll continue to fight.
Howard has dropped hints that he might not mind leaving, he's struggled to fit in with a team struggling to float, and there are plenty of teams out there who would gladly welcome the big man to their team.
The Dallas Mavericks would be an interesting destination for Howard. They've cleared their cap for 2013 and can easily add him to the roster with his $21 million price tag.
What might be a bit of a problem, however, is that the Mavericks also have $22 million tied up in Dirk Nowitzki next season, meaning they would need to do some financial gymnastics to really load the team up.
Even more interesting are the Atlanta Hawks.
Aside from the fact that Atlanta is Howard's hometown, the Hawks have a team that has cleared enough cap space to add two maximum-contract free agents next summer.
So, if Chris Paul were to end up disgruntled enough to leave the Clippers (which seems like an incredibly unlikely scenario), he and Howard could both end up with the Hawks.
The more likely scenario would be Howard joining the Hawks alongside Al Horford (who is on an absolute bargain of a contract at $12 million a year through 2015-16) and Lou Williams, while the rest of the cap space goes toward creating a stellar bench mob.
The Lakers will definitely continue to have the the best chance to keep Howard, but there's never going to be a guarantee with what he's planning.